Trip Report from a weekend in Manhattan
My wife and I recently spent the weekend in Manhattan (we currently live in Downtown Chicago), and thought I'd share, FWIW.
We had Lunch at Haru Park Avenue - this wasn't exactly a plan, we just sort of happened by it, and walked in with no prior knowledge. I thought the quality of the fish was superb, but that the menu was remarkably unimaginative. Chicago (as, I'm sure, New York is as well) is littered with Sushi places with imaginative new rolls and combinations - or even unique hot entrees. At Haru, they essentially had 3 "Super Maki" (the only items with imagination), and the rest was stock Sushi-retaraunt menu (edamame, gyoza, plain fish rolls, sashimi, teryaki, tempura, miso, etc.). All these standards were well done, I was just expecting something a tad more interesting.
The first night, after reading much about it, we had dinner at WD~50, which was only sort of OK. Our favorite place in Chicago is run by a former sous-chef of here, so we had interest. We had the Corned Duck, Popcorn Soup, Lamb, and Scallops. Everything was OK, but not nearly as imaginative as I had been led to believe from reviews. The Scallops, particularly, were quite good. Overall, I thought it was alright, though disappointing, given my expectations. Servive was forgetable, at best, and I thought our waiter had something of an attitude.
The second night, we went to Danube, which was absolutely fantastic. My wife and I got the tasting menu, which enabled me to sate my long-held Weiner Schnitzel craving. My mushroom soup was excellent, as was my wife's appetizer medley and Beef Goulash. The room was beautiful, and service was so inobtrusive, you barely realized they were there until your next dish came. We both happen to be fans of Austrian wines - particularly Gruner Veltliners, and they had the best selection I've seen. The only items that were less than phenomenal were my wife desset (pear strudel, served with, as best I can guess, vinegar ice cream), and our lobster, which was merely "pretty good". I had a chocolate souffle for dessert which, while hardly imaginative, was excellently prepared.
On our final night, we took the hotel concierge's advice and went to Mercer Kitchen. I knew what sort of meal I was in for when the roll that was placed on my bread-dish literally bounced upon contact. The replacement was hard, stale, and difficult to tear apart. As a general rule - good eateries have good bread. This was...awful. The room was striking, and the design was beautiful. The rest - not so much. I cooked in a professional kitchen for 7 years, and can tell frozen veggies and boxed mashed potato from 5 miles away - and these were undoubtedly frozen and mashed. My roast chicken was fine (hard to screw up), but my tuna spring-roll had the consistency of, to be cliche, cat food. My wife had about the worst crab-cake I've ever sampled. For an establishment that charges $30+ for an entree to serve frozen carrots and beans along with boxed mashed potatos is inexcusable.
For breakfast, we went to Oscar's, in the Waldorff, which, I suspect, no one that actually lives in NYC goes to. Regardless, my wife's Gnutella/Banana french toast was surprisingly light and delicious.
Again, take it FWIW.
Great report. I wish I could have warned you about Mercer Kitchen. Ate skate there a few years back when it was in its "heyday" and it was disgusting. And by the way, Oscar's is an unsung gem.
Thanks for your report! We sometimes like to go to the bar at Mercer Kitchen after a weekend lunch and have coffee and dessert, but I've had no interest in trying the restaurant itself based on things I've read - sorry you ended up eating there!
I'm glad you liked Danube - it is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Doesn't hurt that I leave 3 blocks away. I find it remarkable how bad Mercer Kitchen is. The variance in Jean George's restaurants is also pretty incredible. The mothership and Perry St. are both fantastic and Mercer Kitchen, Vong, and Spice Market are all pretty terrible. 66 (RIP) might have been the worst. Never went to V Steakhouse and have not been to JoJo so can't really comment, but perhaps he should stick to the high-end French/International restaurants.
Awesome. Don't see many reports criticizing WD-50 for not being weird enough
Actually, I had similar issues, sort of. I became a molecular gastronomy convert after a mindblowing meal at Alinea and was really looking forward to WD-50 (I'd also been a fan of Wylie Dufresne at 71 Clinton). I found the flavor combinations were either were too conventional, or they didn't make sense at all, as opposed to the brilliant and novel (but logical) combinations at Alinea. At Alinea, each dish was a delicious puzzle - I loved trying to figure out the thought process behind the flavors of each dish (my favorite was a dessert featuring rasberry, goat milk, red pepper, lavender, curry, pistachio... flavors bridging Provence and India). At WD-50, they were either really obvious (steak + onions + cheddar + apple), or they appeared to be chosen either for visual impact (mole "lentils"), or pun potential (pine + apple + pineapple), without really considering whether or not they would taste good (except for the desserts. I really liked the desserts. I haven't actually had the "pineapple" dish, only read about it, but the desserts I had were delicious).
Maybe I should clarify, then.
"Corned Duck", is unique - I've never seen it. But when you put it on a rye cracker, and wrap it around a dollop of "purple" mustard, you're eating a Corned Beef on Rye, at least, that's what my taste-buds said. Cool? Sure. Earth-shattering flavor? Not really.
And my Scallop - serving it with mushrooms seems standard. Cranberries and pecans and a spice-bread consomme make it sound like you're eating you're scallops in a dessert bread - interesting idea. But I didn't taste cranberries or pecans. Spice Bread, yeah.
Similarly - the "pretzel" consomme didn't even faintly taste of pretzels, and the "Popcorn Soup" with the Shrimp rolls (my favorite item we had) didn't really taste too much of popcorn. It tasted like butter, which is on popcorn, but...lots of things have butter without reminding me of popcorn.
I should also add that the Jasmine Custard with black-tea ice cream and banana was absurdly good for dessert.